I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

When two remain two

Marrakesh is loud.  In numerous ways. The city's medina and main square are super-bustling hives of activity yet back in the riad at night there was more silence than you can shake a shitty stick at. Though right now the resident cat, Limoun, is making a "feed me" racket outside our room and so is my stomach

Hello, breakfast in country 51. This post comes from a parkrun-free Saturday in Morocco with my girlfriend Helen, who is resolute in her determination not to dump me in our long weekend here. That seems to be going well so far

We met up on Thursday evening - not for, like, the first time ever, I don't mean this is a particularly outlandish first date - at Clapham Junction (amidst platform confusion) and considered the holiday to start there and then. Accordingly I started off with the happy note of how nervous I was because of my previous form of having been dumped either on, or on immediate return from, 4 holidays in the past. She teased me about it, which was the right thing to do (bah) and then we went back to mine and drank cava out of half/pint glasses while waiting for Chinese food to arrive and watching episodes of Ancient Aliens series 6, including appearances from David Icke! Hurrah! We know how to holiday..

Friday morning, up and out earlier than I do for work. Got to the station too early to buy discount train tickets and I'd forgotten my watch, for fucks sake. Nipped back while Helen bought tickets and hey presto, a crowded cheapskate express to Clapham Junction for a perfectly timed change to Gatwick, getting there about 1020. Ace. First job: get the motherfucking monorail to the north terminal then a quick e-cig break before going through security and both being singled out for apparently being half metal. Grr

No passport control though. I don't fly from Gatwick enough to really know it like the back of my hand like I do large chunks of Heathrow, especially as the last few times I've used it were for domestic flights. I figure there'll be passport control at the international gates, and we bugger off to the lounge.

I make a vague faff at the desk out of ensuring I use one card for benefits but another for earning miles. My shiny Cathay Pacific card runs out next month, so this is the last opportunity to use it for getting into the lounge and consuming as much free booze and food as we can stuff. I say 'we', this is Helen's first and only opportunity, having never been in a lounge before and using it as an exercise in becoming acquainted with the 'orrible 1% enemy who'll all be shot when her revolution starts

We grab a seat and a bunch of free breakfast. Apparently the chocolate pastries are fucking amazing, and the coffe isn't bad either. I have a giant fruit salad and yoghurt and then, oh fuck it, it's 1100, time to get on the sauce. Beer, gin, cava, bourbon and champagne? Why the fuck not? At around 1200 there is a 5 or 6 person queue for triangled sandwiches. Really

Having not travelled together before, Helen and I are each learning about one another's travel habits. Her revolutionary tendencies are taking a bit of a beating as the lounge is proving to be a particularly ace place to spend time but not money, and I learn that she's paranoid about getting to the gate on time. So we jump up and leave the second the board says "go to gate". She is bouncing with excitement so much so that the tactical piss she requires en route to 570 almost takes place in the gents, but I divert her just in the nick of time.

Boarding is actually taking place as we arrive at the gate. There is no real passport control, which I find odd. We get on BA2666, a 3.5hr flight to Marrakech. Just before take-off I receive good news from Alex by SMS.

I'd snagged us an exit row when checking in on Thursday, only to then realise this often means not having a window to look out of, but this time our fears were assuaged. Helen, queen of Easyjet and Ryanair flights is gobsmacked to learn that we will get a snack, some booze, and some proper-ish food for free as I bang on about the low cost carriers being false economies. We have paid £135 each for return flights with BA and 3 nights in Marrakech including breakfast. If that's not a bargain I don't know what is (I do know what is)

We get "superior" chocolate raisins and honeycomb, then a comedy flight attendant attempting to charge me for my beer and telling Helen the first 3 rows necked all the vodka. When the main food run is done he deliberately misinterprets a request for water as for whisky (but supplies water). Other than that the flight is unremarkable save for the fact I get double food because Helen doesn't want her cheese, crackers, egg mayo bap or mousse. I am too fat a bastard to turn down extra helpings. I play many, many, many levels of Duet on my phone, and we spend a lot of time talking about the next trip we already have booked, the two-for-one voucher busting trip in First Class we're taking in May (vicarious travelers, take not!). This part of the conversation generally involves me explaining what to expect, and her asking if it's free. Everything is free, I repeatedly explain.

Come the end of BA2666 she is disappointed there was only one booze run in a 3hr flight. Her revolutionary tendencies are definitely on hold, at least so far as air travel is concerned. I did say it was hard to go back.

Just prior to landing the Atlas Mountains come into view and they are stunning. Wow. And then, suddenly, we are down at Marrakech Menara RAK. There's no hurry to get off and we saunter across the tarmac into the arrivals building, spotting the disembarkation forms I grab a couple and we fill them out in the queue to immigration.

This does not seem to be a particularly popular thing to do. The queue is massive (I think two other flights landed around the same time) and at one point we are shunted to a different queue toward some other desks. We then proceed to not proceed for the next half a fucking hour. It seems like virtually no-one has filled out the form and has to do it at the desk, but they are not scooted off to the side to let the next person through while doing so. We observe that the officials are asking for addresses of accomodation, looking at boarding passes, etc, so while queuing make sure we have everything ready and at the desk I plonk the lot in front of the guy. He asks if my iPhone is a gift for him and tells me the boarding pass isn't required. I am welcomed to the country and waved through fairly quickly, having filled everything out. Why doesn't everyone do this? I swear we queued up longer for that than I did at the massive Joburg queue on the crazy runs last September.

Helen changed up £40 into dirhams and after a quick vape we got on the virtually empty express shuttle bus to the city. Welcome to country 51, welcome to Africa! The airport is so close to the city that it's actually walkable, though it would not be a pretty walk. Half way we see lots of camels and they are awesome. Traffic gets worse as we approach the final square and we're dropped off exactly where we expect to be.

The initial part of the walk is easy, as we know to cross the main square Jemaa el Fna and then kinda bear right onto Riad Zitoun el Jdid. The attention from the locals offering us cabs, accomodation or directions is not as overwhelming as either of us expected, until we make the cardinal error of turning back because we've not turned and should have. Suddenly EVERYONE knows we're first-timers and lost, not the confident striding visitors we'd hoped to appear as. But we fix our directions and finally reach a bit where it looks kinda right and a guy tells us yes, we're heading the right way. A lad from the taxi rank has not-so-mysteriously decided to walk the same way as us and eventually asks which riad we're after; we tell him, he leads us the 300 or so yards (but 3 turns down identical looking streets) to the front door and gets 50dh for his trouble.

Inside riad Limoun Amara we're greeted by Mohammed who provides us with tea, biscuits, and a map. He tells us how to use the car park as our pivot point, and not to accept directions from people because they will all want 50dh for their trouble. The room is directly off the main courtyard and is not exactly what you would call private, nor does it have much by the way of features. There is a bed and some incense and a bathroom with a particularly awkward door. The little guide pamphlet respectfully requests that we do not bring alcohol back to the room.

Mohammed told us breakfast is from 0830-1000 but if we want it earlier we can. Er, no. Also they can knock up evening meals but best to request early because they need to go out and do the shopping for it. tonight though, we intend to head back to the main square and have a gawp and some nosh up there.

Just after sunset, Jemaa el Fna is super-overwhelming. Helen's hair (and my beard) act as a beacon and maybe it's just perception but we seem to attract way more attention than other tourists wandering around. Maybe our eyes are a bit too wide. Some blokes try to convine me to "have a shufty" at their wares, two fellas shout "seeya later alligator" at us after we ignore them, and one bloke tells me I look like Bruce Willis. We want to eat at one of the places with balconies and go up a horrible spiral stairwell to a French restaurant with seemingly no staff and no-one at all trying to make us eat their food. Strange. We give up and try another, which works fine as a friendly man leads us to a balcony seat and hands us menus in French. Soon a surly waiter takes our orders - we choose tagine - and we watch and listen to the madness below. A call to prayer rings out very very loud.

The food is pretty bloody ordinary to be honest. We're not asked if we have finished, despite a lot of food left on Helen's plate, instead things are unceremoniously removed. We aren't in the mood for dessert but could do with a pint. This is not too easy to find, as we have no internet, have left the guidebook back at the riad, and being very Muslim there aren't many sauce-holes around. We wander a bit vaguely looking for bars or chain hotels, having first SMSed Chris back in the UK to find out where the Chesterfield pub is (it's about 2.5km away, damn it).

Anyway, we're a bit knackered after a long day of stuff and don't really fancy our first attempt at navigating back to the riad to be done pissed and in the full dark. So we buy 6 bottles of water and dodge the hundreds of mopeds on the way back and spend the rest of the evening playing Scrabble, during which I get properly moody because I don't like being competitive against anyone except myself. I am a terrible loser and horrible winner, on the rare occasions I do win. I'm particularly pissed off when I have a rack from which I've made 3 different 7 letter words, but cannot find a place to put it on 3 successive goes (I keep passing). Fuck you, derails/dialers/redials.

The light goes off and we notice just how silent everything is, and make jokes about "arts" sounding a bit like "arse", before drifting off to sleep. Day one done, and I am yet to be dumped.